In the past weeks, we have reviewed t he behavioural traits of leaders that would motivate followers. We spoke of four attributes - engage, enrol, energise and empower. But there is one more E! This E is empathy. In order to appreciate the role empathy plays in leadership, you first need to have a clear understanding of what empathy means. Empathy is the experience of understanding the other persons’ thinking from their perspective. In short, you place yourself in their shoes and experience what they are feeling.
By understanding others you can develop closer relationships. There are tangible benefits that are derived from making time to understand what those around you need, as opposed to what you perceive is required. Indeed, leaders who take the time to understand the needs of their followers can provide them with the support they require to press ahead, to deal with the challenges or issues that might be holding them back from achieving their goals.
By understanding and providing followers with what they need to succeed, leaders can build a sense of trust, thereby strengthening the relationships they have with their employees and consequently, the relationships followers have with one another, leading to greater collaboration and i mproved productivity.
That said, it is very rare to encounter a great leader, especially in our modern world, who does not have a deep respect for and understanding of his followers. That takes us to an important question: ‘Why should anyone want to be led by you?’
Your followers also do have fundamental rights. They have certain expectations. Let us see what t hese anticipations are. If we create some sort of a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ between leaders and followers, the following might be included as the followers’ expectations.
■ We want our leader t o be authentic and human – just like us, only a little better. We want our leader to make occasional mistake or two, unpredictable and complicated like us. Yet, at the same time, we want our leader to be nearly flawless, consistent and transparent. That makes us build confidence in entrusting our future with him. In real life, fulfilling both these requirements would be a great challenge for a leader. That is why great leadership is both tough and rare.
■ We want our leader t o be honest with us while telling us a compelling story of the vision. It is such a vision and a compelling one at that, we require in order to buy into the cause. And once we have made that emotional purchase, we want our leader t o be trustworthy enough to always be honest with us.
■ We know that our leader has some authority over our lives but we reserve the right as individuals to assert our own authority. We believe we are merely voluntarily assigning authority to our leader and we can rescind that loan at any time. We retain full authority over our lives and careers.
■ We want our leader committed to the cause. We want to follow the leader, who should be passionate about the future as he has convinced us to be. We want the captain to not just commit to piloting us to our destination, but also willing to go down with the ship if we hit an iceberg.
■ We want to see competence in our leader. Our definition of competence is ‘the quality of being adequately or well qualified physically and intellectually’. We rank competence over ambition, intelligence and personality. We believe competence has to do with the ability to see what others don’t see and before others see.
■ We want t o be challenged by our leader. We crave excitement, challenge and a vision worth giving our lives to. We are looking for something bigger than life to give ourselves to
. ■ We want our leader to focus on the goal. Clearly define and create shared meaning on the goals; hold all of us accountable for those goals. Help us find relevance and meaning from the goals. He should maintain focus on the goal and should not allow us to get side-tracked on
■ We want our leader to ensure a collaborative climate. He should behave in a way that optimizes openness (surfacing and dealing with issues) and supportiveness (bringing out the best thinking and attitudes) among the team. He should make communication safe and guide our team’s problem solving and decision-making process.
■ We want our leader to build confidence in team members. Make us smart about key issues and facts, e.g. communicate proactively. In confidencebuilding, he should display three attributes: a track record of team results. Exhibit a positive, ‘can do’ attitude. Express sincere appreciation for team member efforts and accomplishments.
■ We want our leader to demonstrate technical ‘knowhow’. In this aspect, he should possess three dimensions: understand the content or body of knowledge directly related to the achievement of the goal. Create self-awareness of specific knowledge gaps relating to the team’s work and be willing to seek out and rely on those that have more expertise. Be open to technical advice from team members who have more expertise in a given area.
■ We want our leader t o set priorities effectively. We need him to be equipped with three qualities: truly set priorities and refuse to make everything a top priority. Collaborate with team members on priority setting. When priorities must change, provide a clear rationale for the team.
■ We want our leader to manage the performance of the team. Herein also, he needs three attributes: translate each member’s role into meaningful objectives and results expected. Give constructive feedback, address and resolve performance issues. Recognize superior performance.
As a leader you must be compelling. This is the on-ramp to the topic – ‘Leading people’ – which we start next week. There is no substitute for talent and those with real talent are never looking for a job. They need to be recruited. And thus, they must be compelled to join the team. To keep them, the job must remain as interesting, challenging and fun. The followers in your team want to join a compelling vision, work for a compelling leader, work with compelling followers and do compelling work. Can you, as the leader, do what it takes to make their wishes come true?
If followers are expected to accomplish something great, then those followers expect their leaders to commit to greatness – all the way. There is nothing that inspires like a leader’s complete commitment to the vision, keep on winning. (Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at email@example.com)